Raise your hand if you’ve heard online that the age of sexual consent in Japan is 13 years-old. Wow! That is the youngest age of consent among developed countries. Except, you know…that’s not true.
The internet has been pushing some crazy misinterpretations of Japan’s “loose” youth and consent laws, which are completely untrue since even Japanese teenagers get arrested for dating each other. Japan has a tri-layer set of laws in regards to obscenity, which holds lots of twists and turns that end with unclear laws that require parental approval and a much higher age of consent than the internet likes to believe.
Let’s go over the facts!
1. The Penal Code of Japan – Passed in 1907, the law defines statutory rape as having willful sex with anyone below the age of 13. Most people on the internet misunderstand this law as any 13 and older is fair game.
2. Juvenile Obscene Acts – Every prefecture and municipality have laws in place protecting minors from “unethical relationships” and sexual activity with adults. Depending on the prefecture, it’s illegal to have a sexual relationship with a minor below the age of 16 to 18. Juvenile Obscene Acts override the Penal Code of Japan. Keep in mind that the age of adulthood in Japan is 20 years of age. This will be important later.
A popular example is Tokyo’s “Youth Protection Law,” which prohibits adults from having sex with minors below the age of 17. Does this mean Japan’s age of consent is more in line with the rest of world? Not exactly…
3. Civil Codes – These are another set of prefectural and municipality laws. They state that civil agreements are legal only between two parties that are at least 20 years-old. This means anyone 20 and older must seek parental consent before entering a relationship or marriage with someone that is at least 19 years-old.
This law throws another wrinkle in Japan’s age of consent. What people fail to understand is that is youths between the ages of 16 to 18 (depending on the prefecture) can have sexual relationships with each other. However, anyone that is 20 looking to be in a relationship with someone between 16 to 19 (lowest age depending on the prefecture) must have parental consent.
Do you know what this means? Depending on the prefecture and how strict civil codes and juvenile obscene acts are enforced, Japan’s de facto age of consent is between 18 to 20 years-old. That is the highest age of consent in the developed world!
Let’s say your only knowledge of Japan’s age of consent is the misinformation that the age of consent is 13. You would be charged with a felony and could face up to 20 years of forced labor.
Let’s say you slip up and had a steamy night with some between the age of 16 to 19. Depending on the prefecture, you would be charged with a misdemeanor and could face up to 5 years of forced labor.
Now, the actual interpretation of the law is very vague and can land foreigners (especially exchange students) in big trouble. Keep in mind, if you are at least 20 and enter a relationship with some 19 and under, you will face misdemeanor charges.
But let’s say you are an 18-year-old college student in a study-abroad program. The legal ramifications of entering a relationship are fairly murky without parental consent.
Juvenile Obscene Acts are notorious for being vague in what is considered “obscene” and this can vary on a case-by-case basis. Some places consider sexual penetration obscene, while others consider staying in the same hotel room as obscene. If you are 18, and the Juvenile Obscene Acts protects anyone under the age of 17, you could face a misdemeanor charge for corruption of a minor.
Despite what your favorite anime or manga depicts, relationships for anyone under the age of 20 holds a lot of baggage. Depending on the prefecture, it’s completely legal to arrest a 17-year-old for dating their 16-year-old classmate. While charges could be dropped, the social stigma will always be there for the person who was arrested. Because of this, some schools forbid their students from having relationships, even if they are protected by the juvenile obscene acts.
Why is Japan so draconian?
Japan has had obscenity acts in place since the ’60s, but the harsh punishments and vague interpretations did not occur until the ’90s.
Up until that time, Japan was a popular destination for sex trafficking and child sex “tourists.” To combat this, local governments strengthened their laws and adopted draconian punishments for anyone involved in relationships with minors in an effort to combat sex trafficking of minors.
Another reason was former Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara. He wanted to bid on the Tokyo Olympics, and other nationalistic politicians wanted to clean up Japan’s international image as being a “safe haven for pedos.” While laws were in place to prevent adults from having relationships with minors, Ishihara’s goal was to lower the image of Japan’s “sexually deviant youths.” This is why Japan is one of the few countries that doesn’t have a close age exemption, which would forgive a 17-year-old for dating a 16-year-old.
And, that’s pretty much it. Still think Japan’s age of consent is 13?